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Amber Paulen

Doris Lessing

The Grass is Singing

14 January 2007


The Grass is Singing is Doris Lessing’s first novel. It was written during her second marriage and during the period before she left Southern Rhodesia for England. This book is unique compared to her many novels to follow, as most first books inevitably are. It revolves around Mary and her life in British colonized Africa, perhaps typical events for the time, excluding, of course, the macabre ending. At the onset Mary is a woman who goes about her life passionlessly, content; she goes to the movies, holds a job, lives at a house for single women. All remains content until her friends mention the neccesity of finding a husband; she questions why she does not have one and decides she must.

She finds a husband, Dick, a struggling farmer on the veldt. Mary is now a farm-wife living in the open of the African countryside. I cannot imagine what this must be like. Neither could Mary, apparently. She tries at first to become orientated to the place, buying curtains and some other rare fineries, but these soon fray and Dick, always behind with the farm, can never purchase more. The tin house fries her, the brown earth and the expansive blue sky depresses her, the lonely days leave her with nothing to do but to sit on the couch and stare.

This book must have been boiling in Doris Lessing since childhood. As a child she visited other farms on the veldt and watched women in their lonely lives, like her own mother. She watched as neuroses developed, as these women struggled with the need for individualization, the need to identify with the world outside of themselves and their children. Mary never found that. It was rare the woman who did, the woman, like Doris Lessing herself, who challanged social mores and was intent on living her own life.

The ending of The Grass is Singing is as tragic as the whole book. Revolving into a full circle began by the newspaper clipping at the very beginning, the reader knows there is not going to be a happy ending. Mary seeks solace in the houseboy despite her manic emotions. At once disgusted because of his color and curious because of his manhood, Mary becomes involved in a series of attractions and repulsions. One knows this can’t last long, and thankfully it doesn’t.

What Doris Lessing accomplished with this novel was very stunning for the time. Addressing at once the color bar in colonized Africa and the acceptance of women in society, this is a very brave first book indeed.



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